As a manager, you’ve probably developed a 6th sense about certain employees and their staying-away-from-work habits. You have probably come across one or two employees that you suspect are taking advantage of the system and their sick leave allowance, but since you’re no labour expert, you’re not sure if their medical certificates are valid or not.
Before you take any drastic measures, your first step is to confirm whether or not the doctor’s note is valid.
You should investigate, starting with these four questions:
Who can issue a valid Medical Certificate in South Africa?
A person that is certified to diagnose and treat patients and is registered with a professional council. The medical certificate should have a valid practice number.
Does this include traditional healers?
No. Sangomas and other traditional healers may issue certificates, but employers can reject them. You can only reject it you are not bound by a collective agreement to accept such certificates. Some certificates from traditional healers do contain a practice number but that is merely an indication that the healer has registered with a voluntary Interim Council (established in 2005) that no longer exists.
What constitutes a legitimate sick note?
If any of the elements below are missing, you do not have to accept the medical certificate as valid:
- The medical certificate must have the doctor or practitioner’s:
- The medical certificate must have the employee’s:
- The medical certificate must contain details of the employee’s illness, including:
– The date and time of the doctor’s visit
– An indication that the employee is unfit for work
Do note that a description of the illness in layman’s terms should be included too. However, this must be at the consent of the employee – s/he has the right to keep the diagnosis confidential. If you are suspicious of an employee’s absenteeism or notice that they’re sick more often than usual, then you can ask the employee to write a formal letter and authorise the doctor to tell you what kind of ailment the employee has.
The certificate must also specify:
- Whether the employee described his/her symptoms and the doctor accepted it on acceptable medical grounds or whether the diagnosis is made purely on personal observation.
- The exact date that the certificate was issued.
- If the employee only goes to the doctor on day 2 or 3 of being absent from work, the doctor is not necessarily confirming that s/he examined the patient, nor confirming that s/he’s sick. In which case, you don’t have to accept that s/he was sick.
- What kind of duties (if any) s/he is able to fulfill.
- For example, sometimes an employee is advised by the doctor to not carry heavy loads but they are able to complete admin tasks.
- The dates that s/he should be absent from work to recover.
How do employees commonly fraud their sick notes?
- Employees may make a copy of an old medical certificate and simply alter the dates
Adding a new date is as easy as using Tippex or pasting a blank page over the original date. Once they make a copy of the ‘blank’ certificate, they’re able to fill in their own details. Usually, it’s the date of absence and type of illness that gets altered.
What you should do: Always insist on handwritten personal information. You will then be able to compare the two handwritings. Most practitioners have a date stamp that serves as extra proof of date of issue.
- They use a fake doctor’s name and signature
Many employees simply scribble an illegible signature and/or use a made up name, relying on your naïveté to overlook it.
What you should do: Insist on a handwritten signature. You can double check the name by doing a quick Google Search. This is the easiest way to tell if the person is a registered doctor or not.
- The medical practice, registration number and phone number is made up
You should be aware that there are websites that exist that makes it that much easier for employees to fake a legitimate-looking sick note.
What you should do: Again, you should Google all details of the practice online. If you’re unable to confirm the relationship between the phone number and registration number, then the medical certificate is probably a fake.
How to Deal With a Fake Medical Certificate
What to do when your employee hands you what you suspect to be a fraudulent ‘medical’ certificate?
*If you’re not sure what the red flags of a fake medical certificate are, read the article entitled – How to identify a fake medical certificate?
Know the basic rules of labour law:
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act, section 23, state the requirements of a valid sick certificate:
Proof of incapacity
(1) An employer is not required to pay an employee in terms of section 22 if the employee has been absent from work for more than two consecutive days or on more than two occasions during an eight-week period and, on request by the employer, does not produce a medical certificate stating that the employee was unable to work for the duration of the employee’s absence on account of sickness or injury.
(2) The medical certificate must be issued and signed by a medical practitioner or any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament.
Verify the legitimacy of the medical certificate
There has been a general public misconception that employers are not allowed to contact a medical practitioner to verify a medical certificate, in fear that it could contravene the doctor and patient’s privilege. However, should you need to validate the sick note, you’re well in your right to contact the doctor, if only to verify the exact information your employee has provided you with.
Confirm the medical practice’s address and registration number
If your employees have handed you medical certificates from doctors with the same practice number, and this rings your alarm, chances are you need to conduct an investigation.
Should you suspect that either the medical practitioner or practice number is bogus, you can do one of two things:
- Contact the Health Professions Council of South Africa or the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa to find the healthcare professional or the practice.
- Send out an undercover patient to visit the practice and test if the said practitioner is willing to produce a fake certificate.
Note: You can dismiss the certificate if you find that the medical professional or the practice number are not in either of the organisations’ records.
When you suspect your employees are abusing their sick leave, you can take the following steps:
- Analyse their leave patterns to establish if anyone is abusing their leave
- Hold a meeting with your employee to talk about their absenteeism. Make sure you talk about how they can rectify their behaviour.
- Monitor your employer to see if there’s improvement in their behaviour
- If your employee still insists to take time off work without following the correct procedure, you can take progressive disciplinary action. For instance, in the form of a warning.
- If after the disciplinary action there is still no improvement, you should hold a formal disciplinary hearing.
- If all else fails, your next step is to let the employee go.